Being Humbled


I’ve had my job for six months now.

The Par-annual Question

Like any milestone, this fact has prompted a bout of reflection.

I love my job and I am happy in it; proud to work for an organization I respect with people I enjoy in a setting where I am supported and have room to grow. That being said, these months have been some of the most challenging of my life. Though I am unquestionably happy and pleased with the situation and trajectory I have created for myself, it is also true that I have been confronted by difficulties that would give even the most stalwart soul serious pause.

To wit; I have been sick for all of 2015 thusfar. What had been an intense but intermittent nuisance developed into an ever-present and all-consuming fact of life.  Something that once cropped up at intervals to smite me, with weeks long respite between, became a constant hardship which brooked no denial. Though I am theoretically on a course of treatment which should remediate my symptoms is a source of hope, but as yet my relief is still that; theoretical.

Couple that with taking on the most complex and multifaceted work I have ever done and I am forced to admit I am not feeling as confident, successful, or industrious as I would like. It is in part because I like what I am doing – and who I am doing it for – so much that I feel a powerful incentive to do better. I think I have a clear and credible sense of what I am capable of at my best, and I feel tremendous compunction that I have not yet been able to offer that unstinting effort to the task of this job.

I think my supervisor understands this; she says she does. She has been unfailingly patient and supportive – far beyond what I would have expected and I am deeply grateful for that fact. All that being said, I am impatient to start creating a tangible return on her good faith.

I can only hope 182 days from now, that I can reflect on this moment knowing I have done so and then some.

Long about Friday evening, I started losing my voice. At the time I didn’t think much of it. I was having dinner in a loud restaurant and had been – unsuccessfully – fighting off a cold for most of the week. That I was struggling to be heard seemed perfectly natural.

By mid-day Saturday, it became clear something else was going on. My voice would come and go, breaking and booming by turns. Honey, ThroatCoat, and even a healthy dose of bourbon were brought to bear on the problem to no avail. Finally near the end of the evening I simply gave up trying to speak altogether and was making myself understood through gestures and text messages.

I spent most of Sunday not speaking at all; trying to rest my voice in hopes it would return given proper respite. Unfortunately, this morning it is as bad as it’s ever been. Inconveniently, a considerable portion of my job requires I be able to speak to people on the telephone, so I am picking through assignments searching for the things I can resolve without consultation; in itself a rather tedious chore.

More than all of that, though, I am rendered completely unable to sing. This became particularly apparent on my long drive home from Bend yesterday when music was my sole entertainment. My sore and wretched vocal cords still flexed in anticipation, whether I willed it or no. I learned pretty quickly to limit my playlist to songs I didn’t know well enough to sing; else my larynx – so well-trained to produce melody at the slightest provocation – might be unable to rest from such reflexive action.

My voice is unquestionably my favorite thing about me. That I might lose it so entirely leaves me feeling hobbled and humbled both. So then, I take that this should teach me sincere gratitude upon its presumed return. Until then I’ll send my prayers aloft in silence that it be soon.

[ri-vel-uh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee, rev-uh-luh-]

adjective

  1. of, relating to, or having the characteristics of revelation.
  2. showing or disclosing an emotion, belief, quality, or the like (usually followed by of): a poem revelatory of the author’s deep, personal sorrow.

 

“If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.” Khalil Gibran

 

It’s never possible to predict with complete surety the result of introducing a new variable into a system. The scientific method attempts to solve for this by isolating components, observing interactions between elements, and carefully controlling for potential adulteration. Even still, it isn’t a perfect process and it still happens rather often that even with such planning and clear intent, outcomes occur that surprise everyone.

I think of myself as a candid person; open and forthcoming in all aspects of my life. I keep things to myself, certainly, but I also disclose a considerable number of very intimate details with regularity. Secrets do not agree with me, so I essentially have none. While no one person knows everything I haven’t kept anything entirely to myself.

Having identified the desire to make myself understood as one of the primary motivating impulses of my life,  I am willing – in the service of this inclination – to be laid bare to an extent most people find uncomfortable at least, and intolerable at worst. In a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum, I recognize my shamelessness but do not know if it is a function of my tendency toward TMI or the means by which such divulgence feels customary. It is, whatever the case, a matter of fact I am completely at ease with.

This presents a strong contrast to what much social convention says about communication. It is both polite and self-protective to curate the dossier of identity. On no account let the unflattering mundane truths be seen; if it is unavoidable, let these been seen only through the filter of bonded love and fortified context.

If instead I feel moved to reveal myself in all practical ways and to almost any interested audience, I do so to inform others about me, and to provide a framework wherein I can observe my own nature from a different perspective. Inherent to this method is the risk of misinterpretation; once these truths are out there, they take on a life of their own in the mind of anyone who encounters them. Moreover, it is a process that somewhat frequently provokes antipathy; after all, just because something is understandable doesn’t make it persuasive.

I still feel the benefits of an open approach to life far outweigh the disadvantages, and I have certainly been privy to both. I comfort myself, in times when I feel vaguely disappointed at the response I have incited, by reminding myself I am simply being who and how I am. That doing so distills certain traits people find objectionable or off-putting is inevitable; that this also serves to reveal something about them is merely a delightful lagniappe.

[pros-uh-li-tahyz]

verb (used with object), verb (used without object), proselytized, proselytizing.

1. to convert or attempt to convert as a proselyte; recruit.
Opinionated as I am, I put very little personal stake in being right. I think what I do because I’ve made educated and reasoned decisions about a given topic. Or because I have listened to compelling arguments from other people who have brought me around to their way of thinking. Or, because it simply pleases me to do so.

This last one seems to present the biggest problem for other people; particularly those at the end of the intellectual spectrum that faces mystery as something to defeat or dispel. I should have good reasons for thinking what I do, they tell me. I should arrive at my conclusions only after climbing the mountain of arduous study, carrying the equipment of objective reason, and look down on the vista of most-likely outcome.

And, in some cases that is exactly what I do.

Yet in others, I feel this approach is not only misguided, it is downright counterproductive. There are things beyond counting in this universe we simply cannot know. I am comfortable with this ambiguity. I feel reassured by the understanding that there is no way to comprehend certain things. I find it both delightful and liberating to encounter certain experiences with the awareness they are beyond my ken.

Moreover, I trust my instincts. I was raised in an atmosphere where it was ordinary to accept the uncanny. It has made me an exceptionally credulous person, and while I’ve been accused of being a sucker, I would rather see things my way than through a veil of poisonous cynicism.

It would be a mistake to believe this means I scorn academic rigor, reject doubt as a philosophical process, or object to inquiry as a critical component to a well-lived and fully realized intellectual life. It is rather to say that I am best served by exercising each in their turn, and then when I have done all of that, discarding them should I find an answer I like better.

I say this not to imply I discard apparent truth for a version of reality I blithely prefer (at least, not most of the time) but instead that sometimes, it is harmless, symmetrical, and happymaking to allow the truth to be something not in perfect alignment with what is broadly accepted as the collective “reality.” I am familiar with that kind of dissonance, and I think it serves me very well indeed.

It is because I understand this isn’t really a defensible position that I have never tried to defend it. Pressed by people who wanted me to quantify my beliefs, I have resorted to simply saying;

“I believe what I do because I like to.”

This is a not very pleasing answer for a lot of people. Some of them are downright offended by it. My utter disinterest in convincing someone else my worldview is valid runs counter to a lot of the cultural messages we absorb. To my mind, I am in fact the only person who need believe what I do. I have never needed exterior validation for my point of view, and even if I am all alone in thinking what I do, it serves and satisfies such that I am content to stand within its borders all by myself. If my satisfaction disappears, I abandon my position with utter alacrity, and no sense of hypocrisy whatever.

For without ever having to defend my beliefs, I am perfectly content to relinquish them should better, clearer, or more compelling evidence present itself. I need retract no unequivocal statements about How Things Are because I have never really claimed to know.

And I suppose that is, in its way, something I could see the value in advocating, after all.

[bih-wil-der]
 
verb (used with object)
1. to confuse or puzzle completely; perplex: These shifting attitudes bewilder me.

I’ve long since come to grips with the realization that I confuse people. I can be capricious, contradictory, and have a whole slough of subterranean influences at work at any given time. I do my best, when it seems important, to clarify the pertinent details to interested parties. I’ve been told I manage to articulate myself on these subjects with considerable skill. Seeing as I have identified my purpose in life as being a Courageous Truth-Teller, it’s a reasonably important skill to have.
 
From time to time though, I completely defeat this purpose by not only failing to communicate meaningfully to others, but even to make things clear to myself.  It is generally not until I catch myself behaving in ways that are not in alignment with my stated goals or implicit intentions – or worse yet counter to my aims – that I realize I have managed to bamboozle myself. 
 
And in this moment where this feels so very true, I am trying to adopt a gentle and compassionate response to my confusion. If I confuse other people, why not me?

[bluhs-ter]

verb (used without object)

  1. to roar and be tumultuous, as wind.
  2. to be loud, noisy, or swaggering; utter loud, empty menaces or protests: He blusters about revenge but does nothing.

verb (used with object)

  1. to force or accomplish by blustering: He blustered his way through the crowd.

noun

  1. boisterous noise and violence: the bluster of the streets.
  2. noisy, empty threats or protests; inflated talk: bluff and bluster.

tumblr_mdza86pf5X1rhiby0o1_500

 

It happens occasionally that the weather perfectly reflects my inner climate. Yesterday was one such. Events have been at a gallop for a while now, and it was perhaps inevitable that with all the swirling influences at work, a gale might rise to life; and so it did.

Instinctively, I lean into the wind, most times. Experience tells me that making progress usually requires a willingness to press on against resistance and bear up under forces set in opposition. That to do this builds character, produces results, and is the process by which wisdom is gained.

Every so often though, it seems safest and best merely to take refuge and let the gale blow away whatever is not strong enough to endure the storm; to clear a path of the withered and outworn in favor of possibility nascent and unseen. That this may result in the loss of comforts long taken for granted seems only the proper price of such headway, made almost entirely possible by complete surrender.

And after all, the lights came back, after a dark and quiet spell.

Shortly after I managed to begin putting on distance in my running, I decided that I wanted to complete a route that would take me past each bridge in Portland. I mapped the total distance out at around 12 miles and realized, I wasn’t that far short of being able to do it. I came close to setting out more than once, but fate and bad weather stopped me. Once it got hot enough to justify trips to the Waterfall Paradise, I was more interested in spending my days there and I proceeded to push it to the back burner.

It isn’t lack of ambition that keeps me from completing exotic routes more often, so much as it is the multitude of considerations and constraints my chosen cardiovascular hobby imposes.

Asthma

I am presented with several limitations running-wise, this is certainly the most pressing. It is aggravated with even moderate increases in heart rate and the medication that best controls this is both prohibitively expensive and causes me to lose my voice. I have learned to take steps which mitigate the worst of my day-to-day symptoms, but running puts a whole different kind of strain on my lungs.

Because of the way my lungs respond to exertion, running fast is more or less out of the question. It wasn’t until I trained myself to move in a slow steady lope that I was able to attain distances in excess of about a mile. Keeping my speed consistent and controlled is the only way I can manage a run of any meaningful length. This is complicated by the fact that even slight elevation changes are also problematic and will set off an attack. As such, any route with elevation change can only include an incline which is either very short or I must plan to take it at a walk.

Joint Problems

I’ve always been hyperflexible. Being bendy is fun for various reasons but also leaves me subject to the woes that accompany this trait (have you heard of anyone DISLOCATING THEIR PELVIS? Well, now you have). I have achy knees, wonky hips, and of late, a screwed up shoulder. These clicks and pains are mitigated, though not solved, by various voodoo taping techniques. But regardless of how much tape of any kind and color combination I may try, there are a finite number of times I can strike the earth with all my body weight and forward momentum before I can feel my joints grinding together to punish me for my hubris.

I have determined through experimentation and experience that this finite number is about 16,000. Once I exceed that, I am in pain; varying degrees – to be sure – depending on how long it has been since my last run, how much stretching I have done, and whether or not I was wise enough to take some ibuprofen beforehand, but pain that will limit my capacity to carry on regardless.

Delicate Flowerhood

I am very heat intolerant and become both nauseous and light-headed if I exert myself in temperatures exceeding about 70 degrees. This means running during the day in nice weather can present a blurk-inducing conflict of interest between enjoying pleasant outdoor weather and not being able to do so whilst I am seized by the overpowering need to vomit.

Thus, my ideal running conditions are:

  • Speed – Slow to Moderate
  • Terrain – Flat and Paved*
  • Temperature – between 45°-70°

 

This is not impossible to locate, but becomes incredibly boring after 60-70 repetitions. So, I push myself beyond the ideal, and I am usually glad I did.

I thought the day would stay cooler, and determined to fulfill my bridge run fantasy before fall set in. I had long since considered that starting at the St Johns bridge meant the run would be largely downhill to get to the Sellwood rather than running the opposite. The issue then became transportation. I knew I could park my car at Sellwood and either get a ride or take the bus to St. Johns, but because I am both a masochist and a moron, I instead told myself that riding my bicycle the 13 miles uphill would be a great way to be sure I was warmed up for the run back.

Ahem.

Bridge #1: The St. Johns

This is my favorite bridge in Portland. It is graceful, and lovely, both in setting and form. It also reminds me of Batman. Which is just awesome. At this point, I was feeling pretty good; flushed and warm, stretched out and eager to get running.

Bridge #2: The Freemont

I’ve always been fond of the urban-fantasy-curvyness of this freeway. The pillars on the east bound deck look like dominoes to me, and the arch is iconic and appealing. It is also my favorite stop on the bridge pedal.

Bridge #3: The Broadway

I remember when this bridge was brown. I think it looks handsomer, red. The Albers Mill at the west end of the bridge always captures my attention as I cross, because my paternal grandfather was the child model in the ad, back in the day. He was also featured in Modern Maturity in an article about the Mazamas because he was still climbing mountains in his 70’s. He was an inspiration, despite his weird chagrin over his given name being Marion. He liked to point out if John Wayne wasn’t man enough to carry it off, he sure as hell wasn’t going to try.

Bridge #4: The Steel

I run across this thing 3-4 times a week, and I never like it any better. It looks and feels rickety to me. It has the distinction of being the SECOND oldest lift-span drawbridge in use,  and the only double-deck bridge with independent lifts in the world but I think lift-span bridges are nowhere near as charming as the tippy ones. Also, when the trains roll across it is so freaking loud my head is like to splode.

Bridge #5: The Burnside

This one is tippy. It also has operator towers that look like a castle turret. It is also the bridge I personally use the most getting back and forth across town. It affords me a nice view of the White Stag/Made In Oregon/Portland, Oregon sign and of the west hills in general. I am also most pleased with the way this photo turned out.

Bridge #6: The Morrison

I don’t even really have words. I mean, blurring this photo was a huge improvement over how this bridge actually looks. I guess it’s okay when they shine all the different colored lights on it. And, thank god, they finally laid dowh some pavement. Cause, you know, in a place where it rains once in a while it was apparently impossible to predict that a metal span might become SLICK AS LUKEWARM SNOT whenever it got wet.

Bridge #7: The Hawthorne

This bridge used to be a different color, too, but I don’t remember what it was. Another lift span, it remains more charming to me than the Steel, though I couldn’t give you a sound reason why… perhaps it is because, as Mike pedantically pointed out, it is the OLDEST lift span bridge in operation.  It was about this point in my run that the “running” got a whole lot slower. 

 Bridge #8: The Marquam

Another freeway bridge. Utterly lacking the charm of its northern neighbor. Does offer a lovely view of downtown – basically only enjoyable during its frequently intolerably slow afternoon traffic. This always seems like the bridge that’d collapse first a-la the Bay Bridge when the giant earthquake we’ve all heard about finally smites us.

Bridge #9: The Ross Island

Is the gravel quarry named for the island or vice versa? Either way, it seems a rather uninspired combination of terms. This bridge is so tall it doesn’t need to be tippy OR lifty. The area beneath is has been transformed from a wasteland of post-industrial urban blight to a wasteland of post-industrial mod chic tower housing and overtly horizontally oriented pointy places of unclear provenance. It is much nicer to run past, now. Or, lurchingly hobble past, as the case may be.

Bridge #10: The Sellwood

 For most of my life, I have crossed this bridge with trepidation bordering on terror. Virtually every crossing was accompanied by an elaborate fantasy wherein, as I navigate its rickety heights, it finally succumbs to years of hard use and bad engineering to tumble me screaming headlong into the Willamette and I must use all my wiles to escape my plummeting car. Which I know damn well I wouldn’t and so thus envision my watery demise. I’m real glad they’re fixing it.

But not as glad as I was to see the end of this journey. After 26 human powered miles, I needed a sandwich and a sit down. Oof. 

*Other surfaces are kinder to joints but require greater exertion.

[puh-dan-tik]

adjective
 
1. ostentatious in one’s learning.
 
2. overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching.
 
 
I can become preoccupied with minutia. My clothes are organized to such extent that I have five categories for shirts. Shoes are similarly ordered by like and kind. I find this not only the most efficient system, it is also aestetically pleasing in the extreme.
 
This happens perhaps even moreso with language.
 
And sometimes in my haste to expound, to correct, and clarify I make trifling grammatical errors. This is ironic.

Remove all points of reference and it becomes remarkably difficult to make any accurate measure.

Minus the elements which have previously provided context there remain no means by which to determine whether these steps are earning progress, holding ground, losing to retreat. Absent cues, triggers, and intimations it is seductively easy to see the horizon drawing closer, and close, with each advancing step; regardless of actual relative locus.

The nature of experience is such that there are no practice rounds – no iterations solely reserved to gain equilibrium – no apprenticeship for life. 

And never being one to do anything in half measures, I hied and hurried from the desert down into the sea. Ignoring the caution I had gathered so carefully to my purpose. In pursuit of my aim at the center of all things, spurning the wisdom which might keep me from tumbling a winding way back to the edge of the desert once more. 

Humbled then, I set my feet to approach the shore slowly now, once more; this time to count my steps and breaths as the surest means of measure.

“How cruelly sweet are the echoes that start, when memory plays an old tune on the heart!” 
― Eliza Cook

 

We enter this life as creatures infinitely adaptable. Born unto uncertain fate, we must win the devotion of those around us in order that we may survive. When we succeed, to whatever extent we do, we codify the process by which this was achieved; it becomes The Writ Of Love. For better, or worse.

I recently sat across a very short space and an even briefer acquaintance from someone who, in response to an offhand remark said knowingly,

“Ah. So, your picker is broken.”

I was taken aback by this pronouncement, and instinctively rose to defend myself, but upon swift reflection realized that insofar as the person who said it was concerned, it was true enough not to bother.

Yet regardless of the veracity of the assertion, its implication got under my skin; that I am somehow fundamentally incapable of selecting a good partner for myself. Clearly, if history is any guide, my track record is pretty lousy – but this can be said of virtually  anyone  who isn’t currently happily partnered.

I have been devoted to the considerable work of tending to myself for the first time in my life and I have made such progress as to render myself nearly unrecognizably happy and content. So then, I bridle at the prospect that any  part of me is broken.

Instead I can approach myself with compassionate understanding that my template, formed a lifetime ago, was based on a love attained only through absolute prescient submission to will and whim alike.  

And while I can intellectually encounter this information with full realization of its incapacity to nurture a healthy, supportive, reciprocal love, I cannot yet divest myself of the emotional responses inherent to that model. 

Which means I both attract and am attracted to, bullies.

Not the best news, ever.

If I internalize this information,  I begin to extrapolate on the theme and wonder if the very fact I am attracted to someone condemns them to being a terrible choice for me as a partner.

This troubles me mostly because this would, in some respect, require me to be omniscient; and as much as I think of myself, I have never really gone so far as to embrace that particular conceit. 

Attraction, in my experience is binary, instant, and irreversible. By which I mean to say, I am attracted to someone before they ever open their mouth. And no action, words, or deeds of theirs seems to change this response. Thus, I am drawn to them before they have a chance to demonstrate they are a bully.

Yet almost without exception (there really is just the one) it has proven to be true. How then, can I tell? Is it as I frequently claim, all in how they smell? Is there a hormone which expresses a demanding sense of emotional entitlement? A pheromone for bully? 

And if all this is so, how can I hope to edit this most profound and hard-wired inclination? How do I make congruent all that I desire with all that will serve to create the most nurturing and complimentary love?

Modern medicine is coming awake to the realization that sometimes, people are sad, or sick, because the wrong kind of things live inside of them; ideas, certainly, but also critters. Gut bacteria are the greatest arbiter of our ability to properly maintain a correct neurochemical balance, digest and absorb essential nutrients. What if the circumstances of childhood  – stress, access to daylight, proper nutrition – dictate what can survive inside of us?

The microorganisms that live in our bellies and on our skin, create the scent that surrounds us. What if in those early years, the only encounters with tenderness I was exposed to suffused the air with chemicals that cried submit  and yield. And this, as my template, literally flavored my experience of love for the rest of my life heretofore? What if all that could endure my internal landscape were those beasts who can withstand terror, tolerate constant worry, and survive total dominance?

Then I am left with a rather more practical consideration; how do I influence myself now, to thrive on peace, crave support, and yearn for equity? To create the change both conscious and chemical?

I believe the good work of shedding that which does not serve me is well underway.  The effort of creating in me conditions which will nurture such change. In so doing I can only hope to welcome near that which will crave only what serves me best.

Perhaps a transplant is in order…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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